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2 Ideology and Ismatic Concepts in Premodern China

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Chapter Summary

Chapter 2 explores the historical background for the modernization of ideological discourse in China. It shows that while there were phenomena in traditional China that can in some sense be understood as ‘ideological’, they differ from those of modern times. The same goes for ‘ideology’, which was not an established concept. This discontinuity between traditional and modern China can largely be attributed to a difference in the perception of history: the understanding that history was cyclical and contingent impeded the development of programmatic ideals for the future. Only in the late nineteenth century did Western ideas of teleological history gain currency. This chapter first presents an outline of the different attitudes to history and then goes through a number of ideology-related cases from Chinese history, such as the question of whether Confucianism can properly be considered an ‘imperial ideology’ or if Taoist millenarian movements can be understood as ‘utopian’. The concluding section weighs the historical evidence and relates it to the conceptual repertoire of Classical Chinese.



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